Tuesday, 17 October 2017

It all starts with a plan

There are some who may just wonder why West Sussex County Council has produced a plan and who will bother to take any notice of it yet alone read it.

Our West Sussex Plan sets out what we will do between now and 2022 and I am very proud of it. It has taken a lot of thought and rewrites to get it where it is but most importantly it is a clear statement of the Council’s intentions over the next five years; how we plan to support, help, care for our residents, some of whom are very vulnerable indeed. The plan looks at how to empower our communities, to build strong self-reliant communities that believe in themselves and support each other.

Each month for 10 months of the year our residents pay their Council Tax so to me it is important that we have a clear statement on what we plan to do with this money; tax payers money.

Money is so much tighter than when I  first came onto the County Council although we thought it was tough then! Although money is an issue, it is not what drives me. It is how we serve and support our communities – some who needs us much more than others, but for everyone in West Sussex we will be there in an emergency. We have changed and adapted and in doing so we are now doing some ground-breaking work particularly with our services for children and adults, focusing on early help.

We know we have terrific communities who we have worked with successfully now and in the past, and we need to build on that good work.

We know residents are worried about the air that they breathe – hence our commitment in improving air quality. We have invested in producing solar energy from our two solar farms and there are more to come providing clean green energy in West Sussex. We are investing in partnerships working with local partners and of course Government to make sure they support us through match funding to make things happen.

In my blog last week I wrote again about the importance of partnership and here I go again – nearly all our plans will be done in partnership.

This Friday the West Sussex Plan goes to full Council for approval.

Much work has gone into the plan but I am more than aware to make it really make a difference so much more work has to be done and there will be more challenges. For me it is all about our amazing county the lovely towns and villages and all those that live in them, the wonderful communities in all shapes and sizes working together for a better West Sussex. When you have a plan – well things can happen…

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Partnership approach needs no apology

So here I am, blogging again about partnership working. I make no apologies for this in these cash-strapped times: if we didn’t work in partnership very little would be done. Nearly everything West Sussex County Council does is in partnership – it may be with a charity, it may be the police, health partners our District and Borough Councils – but what we do, we do it together, for we are here to do the best for our residents one way or another.

Personally, I think we are getting really good at partnership working. You might think, of course, I would say that, but I see more things happening across the County and that’s so heartening. Even though money is tight, each authority has aspirations for their area, everyone wants improved infrastructure, better public realm and that will only be achieved by collaborative, creative working and a determination to get things done.

Now Saturday was a case in point: a few years ago we started a dialogue with Crawley Borough Council on their aspirations for the town centre and Crawley. Queens Square was earmarked for a refurbishment. So money was put aside, design and plans put in place and this time last year work started on Queens Square. One year later, on time and in budget, the newly-refurbished Queens Square was formally opened and it really does look very good, with an amazing fountain as the centre piece.

Seeing people enjoying the space and children running in the water feature says it all about the appreciation for the newly-refurbished Queens Square. Open, attractive spaces are so important: they allow people to spend time, talk with other people and reflect. It is a well-known fact that attractive open spaces contribute to people’s general and mental well-being.

All of this has been achieved by close partnership working with Crawley Borough Council, West Sussex County Council and the Local Enterprise Partnership Coast2Capital. Jointly funded, it is just the first step to further investment in Crawley – there is another £31million for additional work in Crawley, the town centre and sustainable transport infrastructure.

With this £31million Growth Programme, we know that it will attract further private investment into the area, too. It is a fine example of partnership working. However, it is not just in Crawley but right across the County. In Burgess Hill, we are working with Mid Sussex, the LEP and businesses on town centre regeneration - as well as in Worthing and Adur, Horsham, Arun and Chichester.

We all know public money is tight but we know that working and investing together we can achieve so much for our residents, communities and businesses.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

What's next for Chichester?

Last Friday we published our decision on improvements to the Chichester stretch of the A27. That decision was not to take the money on the table now but to work towards investment from the Government’s future road investment programme known as RIS2. This followed the same formal decision earlier from CDC and the opinion of the MP – so there is a united voice for Chichester, but what now.
This was not an easy decision for any of us involved. It is a leap of faith to turn down cash on the table in the bid for something else in the future. I do know however it was the right thing to do. This road will be in place for a long time to come, long after you and I are not here to see it. That’s why it’s so important to get this right. Not to sit back and let ourselves be pressured into making a rushed decision that really doesn’t work for the area but get the right road for the people who use it and those who will live with it every day.
Now that decision has been made one thing is certain, we do not sit still and we cannot sit back. We move on.
Firstly we need to meet with Highways England as soon as possible to discuss our bid for RIS2 to make sure it is in the best position. They have already indicated they would work and help us, what we need to do now is discuss what that means and more importantly how they will engage with our Build a Better A27 group; a group of people from businesses and the community who will help us push this project forward. 
We are now working hard to find a specialist consultant to support this work and make sure what we have everything we need to make sure we are in the best possible position to get this work moving forward in the best way for all of us.
Alongside this work we are also in the process of arranging the next meeting of the Build a Better A27 Workshop and will advertise this as soon as we have a date and a venue.
Our plans now are to move forward to make sure we are working closely with all of our partners and the community and businesses to make sure we get the scheme we need for Chichester. As part of this work there is also some short term mitigations needed to the A27 over the next few years to help cope with the planned housebuilding for the area. This includes looking at the flow of traffic and signage; particularly in the summer months. This is something I have raised already to Highways England and will continue to do that.
We are in what I think is a unique situation having rejected a scheme which was just too damaging and short term for this unique part of England. This is not nimbyism – but the voice of the community who felt and feel that the cost of the Highways England’s proposal was just too high a cost to pay.
As political leaders we now must work collaboratively to find a solution that is right. I do not expect everyone to agree, it is truth universally acknowledged that all road building schemes will not please everyone.
What we must work hard for is a scheme where the community is engaged which offers long term solutions, that takes account of the environment and the communities. Yes of course it is a big ask and of course there are budgetary issues, but we need to be aspirational, we need to challenge and we need to work together. We have come a long way together and we have still much further to go but we should do that in the knowledge that if you never try you will never know.
This is a unique case, we need to find unique answers.